This love story starts the way a lot of them does—springtime, sap's arising, boy and a girl don't know no better. Starts with Daddy bringing home this boy from town. I knowed C. L. Edwards from school but hadn't seen him since I quit sixth grade. That durn teacher, she wouldn't let me alone, always after me to raise my hand and answer, got onto me if I was the last one in and left the door [End Page 134] standing open. Last time I done that, she said, "Hesper Penland, was you born in a barn?" Well, I tell you, that fired me up good. I looked that old heifer dead in the eye and I said, "Yes, ma'am. That's why ever time I hear a jackass bray I get homesick. So that's where I'm a-going now. Home!" C. L., he set in the back with the older boys, and I remember him a-grinning at me like I just done the funniest thing. I wasn't in no mood to be laughing, though, me not knowing how Daddy'd take it. But he didn't make me go back. Said six years was enough for anybody, especially a girl.
I didn't know who it was Daddy had fetched up the mountain that day, even after he rode Hercules right up to the porch where I could see the boy's face good. Daddy hadn't said a word before he left but what he usually said: "Going to town."
"This is C. L. Edwards," Daddy said. "He's going to help out."
You talk about mad. Daddy'd been saying he needed help, in spite of the fact I worked good as any boy, but I never expected that. If looks could kill, C. L. would've been wounded, the way I stared him down. I knowed better'n to say anything, though.
C. L. appeared to have growed some because when they got down off that mule, he stood a good head taller than Daddy. I could tell he'd been a-working outside a lot because even though it was only April his face and arms was brown. His real name was Clingman, named after a mountain. Made me wonder who picked that, and why. Looked like I'd have time to find out. He didn't say a word, just followed Daddy to the barn.
C. L. slept in the little room off the barn where we kept tools and saddles and all. When Daddy put him in there, I knowed he wouldn't be around but for the summer. Wasn't no stove out there and would've been too cold for any mortal after September.
So C. L. took my place in the fields with Daddy, and I kept to the house and the garden. Let me tell you, I didn't like it [End Page 135] ary bit. I'd worked outside all my life and didn't see no reason to quit. I liked being out from under a roof. But Daddy, he said it was time for me to start acting like a woman and doing womanly things. I argued wasn't no reason I couldn't do both, but he would not back down.
C. L. was a good worker, didn't eat too much, so Daddy was happy with him. On Saturday nights C. L. would go home so he could go to church Sunday morning. His family was Methodists. Me and Daddy, we never took to church. I believe Mama used to get him to go, but he wouldn't talk about it, and I can't remember. Most Sunday mornings I'd go up the mountain till dinner time so as not to shame Daddy. He thought I didn't know about the drinking on Saturday nights.
The woods, that's as close to church as I ever come. Anywhere under some trees has always felt holy to me. Up here, there's more trees than people, which is as it ought to be. Daddy, he kept a-clearing ground...